If you are even so much as toying with the idea of becoming a market farmer, it’s a good idea to know exactly what small scale farming is all about.
What pops into your head when you hear the words small scale farm?
Is it a backyard chicken coop?
Maybe a large vegetable garden in your neighbour’s backyard?
Perhaps it’s that farm you drive by on your way to work each day, you know the one with the cows?
Well, any of these particular instances could be considered small scale farming.
Small scale farming does not require a ton of acreage (hence the term ‘small scale’), it allows for the cultivation of multiple crops and livestock and can take place in your very own back yard.
One of the main tenets of small scale farming is sustainability.
What is Sustainable Agriculture?
According to The National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (ATTRA):
Sustainable agriculture is one that produces abundant food without depleting the earth’s resources or polluting its environment.
Sustainable agriculture follows principles of nature to develop systems for raising crops and livestock that are self-sustaining.
As well, small scale farming improves social values, enhancing the lives of the communities they are apart of as well as the farmers and their families.
History of Sustainable Agriculture
Conventional 20th Century agriculture took industrial production as its model, and vertically integrated agri-business was the result.
You know, factory farming.
This industrial approach, coupled with substantial government subsidies made food abundant and cheap.
However, farms are biological systems, not mechanical ones, and through their emphasis on high production, and not the environment, the industrial model has degraded our soil and water, and reduced biodiversity.
In the late 20th Century, astute small farmers, environmentalists, and agricultural scientists saw the devastation that conventional farming was causing to the whole agricultural system.
So, they began to search for better ways to farm.
Welcome, Small Scale Farming
In recent decades, dedicated sustainable farmers and researchers around the world have responded to the deprecating industrial model with ecology-based approaches, called by many names such as:
- Low input
- Ecology based
All of these terms, representing thousands of farms, have contributed to our understanding of what sustainable systems are.
They share a common vision of ‘farming with nature.’
Collectively, they promote:
- Recycling of plant nutrients
- Protecting soil from erosion
- Conserving and protecting water sources
- Minimum tillage
- Integration of crop and livestock enterprises on the farm.
These sustainable practices lend themselves well to small scale farming.
Small scale farms tend to find their best niches in local markets, within local food systems, and often selling directly to consumers (farmer’s market).
Small scale farms are seen by consumers as alternatives to industrial agriculture.
The vision of the small scale farm is to provide the majority of their region’s food.
To accomplish this, it takes enthusiasm and determination to continue to educate customers and the population at large about how their food is grown and why they should support sustainable, small scale farms as opposed to industrial agriculture.
Would you like fresh vegetables grown 30 minutes away, or vegetables that have been driven across the country for the last 3 days?
You really need to be a steward for the environment and highlight all of the water you save, soil that has been rejuvenated back to fertility, and just all-around good environmental practices.
Small scale farming is all about getting away from the industrial enterprise and farming for your family and your community.
Keeping things local and sustainable is the name of the game.
An important aspect of small scale farming that I did not yet mention is that it should also be profitable.
It’s unrealistic for farmers to concentrate all of their efforts on environmentalism and sustainability if financially it is not feasible.
If you cultivate a market for your products and keep close ties with your community through farmer’s markets, CSA subscriptions, a farm stand, etc. you will be profitable (of course you need to grow amazing veg as well!)
We are starting a small scale farm this year and will be documenting our whole journey from nothing to successful market farmers (we hope!)
Stay tuned for future articles on our sustainable practices as well as the different revenue streams we will be trying out.
Are you interested in more information about small scale farming? Let us know in the comments below.
Kathy & Jon
your friendly nieghbourhood growers